The Impulse to Retaliate

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I avoid the political mud pit because everyone gets muddy and only the pigs like it. However, the text today from the Sermon on the mount requires us to examine our political landscape with its light. I understand that most people hold allegiance to one side of the isle which creates a myopia towards their own team that obscures the voice of truth. It may actually be even worse than that. Our tribalism in politics is a by-product of untransformed consciousness which appears in everything from brand loyalty to patriotism. My goal is to shock the system. I desire to sound the alarm and wake up as many as will, in hopes that some may hear and become free. You’ve been warned.

If we want to possess the truth, we must be in a place to hear it. If the bible has any authority in our life, these words were spoken to transform our anthropology (politics) or else our faith is a byproduct of our political institution making it nothing more than propaganda in our heart. That would be a dead faith. Dead, institutionalized religion has replaced authentic (perfect) faith in believers of all traditions. Sadly, if most people are pressed to decide between the propaganda of their political party and the voice of God, most couldn’t discern the difference. Today this will be as easy as it gets. Simply place your political beliefs next to this teaching and examine any disparity.

I’m sticking the pads to the chest. Stand Clear.

Patriotism is an expensive and glorified, low-consciousness, tribal group think. I know that sounds extreme, but hear me out. I love our country and I’m grateful to be here, but each country offers it’s own distracting propaganda machine that enslaves hundreds of millions into thinking their country is intrinsically better than all other’s. Yes, some countries are more intelligent and advanced. Over identifying with one’s country and culture is slavery masquerading as freedom. Behind all our pride, ego, and bullying is a deep seated fear of “other” mixed with the lost memory that we too were once the “other.” Each country cherishes and values it’s prejudices within the heart and to expunge it requires a sort of dying which is perceived as worse than death itself. It’s an anesthetic that keeps us from seeing the other as ourself. Other equals enemy at low levels.

I’m going to ask you to look squarely into this teaching and evaluate yourself, just as I have to do. If we have any soul left at all, these words will deconstruct the house of cards that rules our hearts, minds and actions. If we are not challenged or changed by these words, we prove that the voice of Truth has no jurisdiction within us. True freedom doesn’t come from patriotism, but from the liberation from our dependence upon it.

Do I have your attention? I know this triggers some of you, but can you stop categorizing me, labeling me or dismissing me long enough to hear how I came to this conclusion?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38-42)

Today we examine retaliation as part two of the triad that explains the beatitude “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) Oath taking, retaliation and enemies all come together in a singular impulse.

Once again Jesus is reframing religion into something true and transformational. His words are as vital today as they were in the first century. They are also just as repulsive to the religious, political, and military mind. If we find yourself pushing back or being offended by these words, our soul is horribly out of tune. We’ve over-identified with country.

The ethos of most countries IS retaliation, just as it is for political parties, business competitors, college mascots, High School cliques or sibling rivalries. Our pride clutches firmly onto the impulse of “Eye for an Eye“, just as pre-rational humanity has done for centuries. Our own patriotism trickles this mantra into our being like an intravenous drip. This mindset is a malware script within the kardia . It’s a callous that feels really good inside. It puffs us up with strength. It supercharges our ego and sense of power. We love a good fight. We love a winner and a loser, especially if we are the winner. War instead of a liberated heart. What will happen if we just surrendered?

What is surrender? In the same way avoiding an oath is surrendering the outcome, so surrendering the impulse to retaliate is opening our hand to an outcome we don’t egotistically control. How do your politics stack up next to Jesus’ teaching?

Our judicial system has an ethos of “lawyering up” where retaliation changes the fair verdict into an unfair appeal when “fair” isn’t fair for the loser. True victims and justice are buried in piles of frivolous lawsuits which plunder the resources of our country. What will happen if we just surrendered it? What is our impulse if someone wants to sue us for the shirt off our back?

What kind of heart can surrender its need for justice? This addiction is harder to master than cigarette, booze, or any opioid.

Everyone of us groans under the oppression and pain that the ethos of retaliation pushes upon us, yet we cannot fathom even momentarily what it would be like if we just gave it up (took no oath). Immediately we think, “The bad guys will totally plunder us. We cannot just sit idly by and let evil take over. We have to do something. Justice is the most noble pursuit” This sentiment resonates within our win/lose mindset as the right thing to do. We assume Jesus must be a total idiot or had no clue of what we face today. Jesus must have been completely wrong….How can he possibly ask us to surrender our right (our need) for retaliation? What about protecting all for which we’ve labored? What about Justice?

Isn’t that the heart of the problem? Retribution or restoration?

Was Jesus weak and clueless? The conservative (religious) mind of Jesus day hated this aspect of Jesus and retreated back from him into institutional power. The kingdom of this world looked better than what Jesus was inaugurating.

“Do not resist the one who is evil! If someone would insult you, let them. If someone would sue the shirt off your back, give them your coat, if the military forces you to carry a load, do so twice as far, give to the beggar, and don’t refuse the borrower.” These words feel incredulous to modern people. Jesus’ teachings do not set our immigration policies. Can you imagine Jesus being a guest on a Fox news? Would Jesus want a wall? Would Jesus be for open boarders? Would Jesus lawyer up or grow a military? No wonder Church and State hung Jesus on a cross. We’d do it all over again today.

I know some of you are getting riled up by my words. I hope you know that unlike most pastors and political people, I don’t fear losing my base, I am free to tell you the truth. The mind that is over-identified with any institution will hate the kingdom and flow of God. It simply cannot believe it. Jesus is ushering in subversion through love, not an over-powering through hate. Service not dominance. The Kingdom Jesus offers is based on an entirely different ethos than the kingdoms and institutions that we have sworn allegiance to. As we’ll see next week, the command is to love our enemy, not destroy them, not ruin them, not eradicate them, nor separate ourselves from them.

If you feel a sense of anger, frustration, offense, or dismay at this teaching, then you, like all of us, have “Kardia” (mindset) that has not yet been transformed by love. This is what it means to be unregenerate, or even unsaved. What is most alarming, is that the religious, political, and military mindset (kardia) is the most unregenerate of them all. We can lay claim to all kinds of religious beliefs, we can swear allegiance to a religion, a God or even Jesus, we can do all the things our religious or patriotic tribe asks us to do, but if we have not love for the “other” if our justice is not restorative, then we are nothing, Paul calls us a big zero (1 Corinthians 13:2-3) (see also Matt 7:21).

When it comes to God, inner transformation is the name of the game. It’s all about impulse rewiring. We either change from the inside out or we live a lie (false life), dying from the inside out. Now you are faced with the same choice as me. Double down on our position, find others in our institution that will justify our hatred and prejudice, or open our hand, surrender the outcomes from a pure heart. Catch the impulse to retaliate and go a different way. This allows us to live in freedom, or we can dig our heels deep into our pride and fight from our impulse prison (captivity/living hell) of fear and certainty. Following Jesus’ teaching doesn’t require an oath, it requires us to break with the oath that presently owns us. We can all walk out of our three-side prison right now, all we have to do is trust his words.

Institutional allegiance or restoration through love? It’s our choice.

Can you lay down your position of power? Can you surrender your need to resist the evil one? Or would you rather double down and be twice the evil that they are? Consider these words by Jesus to the religious of his day:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” (Matt 23:15)

People who claim to know Jesus should know these words. People who subscribe to the idea that Jesus is God should be the ones who most embrace his teaching. In Jesus day, he contended most with the religious Jews who claimed to know God too yet lived contrary to his nature and ethos. Jesus reframed the law to bring true meaning to retaliation so that our hearts might be transformed by the power of love and in the process realize that God is visible in “the other.” The clear message if we have eyes to see it, is that Jesus is asking us to treat others as God has treated us. If love doesn’t change our politics or our beliefs, we are no closer to God than the religious mind of Jesus day.

To be pure in heart, to access the “kardia” (mindset), the impulse to retaliate, is the essence of this teaching and all true spirituality. If love can’t transform (save) our heart in our politics (anthropology) and how we treat others now, then our religion will have no power to save us when we die. Jesus picks the ultimate scab revealing that we have believed a lie. It’s ok to be an American or from any other country. It’s ok to like where you are from, the fatal flaw is letting it define who you are and then diminishing others who are different as the enemy. (More on this next week.)

Isn’t it time we get real examine the impulses we have to retaliate? Can we grow up enough to trust the process of surrendering our outcomes to love? Isn’t that the very essence of faith?

If you love your life at all, please let retaliation go. The ethos of God is restoration, not retaliation.